Google’s making it easy for educators and their students to discover and recommend applications and books with Play for Education. Announced onstage at this year’s I/O by Chris Yerga, Google’s Android Engineering Director, the new Play storefront organizes content by education type, age and various other criteria to make the content discovery process simple for higher learning institutions. What’s more, all of the content that appears within this curated portal bears educators’ stamps of approval, so users know that what they’re accessing is tried-and-tested for quality.
Play for Education also makes use of Google+ groups, so schools and universities can quickly push apps, books and other content out to their students and even bill to one central account. A pilot program for the service has already been underway with six New Jersey schools ranking as current participants. Despite Google making the service official today, the actual sign-up window for general access won’t be until sometime later this fall. Though, developers can start submitting their applications right now.
Betaworks, the company that rescued Digg from the toilet, has just bought a majority stake in Instapaper from its founder Marco Arment.
The biggest question is what will become of Instapaper, which rose to the top amongst the many bookmarking/mobile reader apps because of its superior design and engineering. Digg was acquired at what seemed like the end of its life, whereas Instapaper is thriving at the moment.
Arment announced the deal on his blog, saying that his company had expanded beyond what he anticipated when he launched Instapaper in 2008. But his reasons aside, the important news is that Arment has taken care to ensure that all the users who are invested in his product will be taken care of.
We’ve structured the deal with Instapaper’s health and longevity as the top priority, with incentives to keep it going well into the future. I will continue advising the project indefinitely, while Betaworks will take over its operations, expand its staff, and develop it further.
In other words, this isn’t going to be one of those deals where a mammoth company acquires a smaller company only to shutter it and implement its technology elsewhere. Instapaper will live on. This is, I’ll remind you again, the company that revived Digg in just six weeks—Not to mention that Betaworks isn’t exactly Google or anything.
But there’s more than enough reason to think that Betaworks might have additional plans for the tech that Arment built, especially as Digg prepares to launch an RSS reader this summer. As a mobile reader and bookmarking app, Instapaper is a natural fit for Digg, which is basically a source of interesting things to read about online. Put the two together and you’ve got some textbook synergy going on. Jack Donaghy would be proud.
Arment has done such a nice job with Instapaper since 2008 that we’re a little sad to see him hand it over to someone else. At the very least, he sold Instapaper to a small company that wants to nurture the product, rather than to a titan that would eat it alive and absorb its entrails.
Update: PaidContent interviewed Arment about the deal and asked him about what new features will come to the new Instapaper.
“I have a lot of half-done major features that Betaworks is going to take to completion. I want to have a fresh new design on the app, new sidebars…so many things I got partially through or didn’t have the time to start. The service has always been about doing the basics really well, not about having a million different features. That’s what I’m looking forward to, going forward – a staff that can keep up with a lot of that stuff.”
Read Arment’s whole interview at PaidContent]
Not content to own your phone’s home screen, Facebook is bringing free VoIP calling to users of its Home and Android Messenger apps in the US. The social network’s VoIP for iOS has been available in the US for a few months now, and Android users are already enjoying the service in 23 other countries, including Canada. Stateside, the VoIP for Android will roll out over the course of the day, and it shouldn’t require a manual update; users will know they have the new VoIP feature if they can click the “i” icon on a friend’s profile and then select “free call.” From Chat Heads, starting a call requires tapping the “more info” dots next to a friend’s name to jump into the Messenger app.
How We Use Our Mobile Phones (Nielsen via Mashable)
In a new report entitled The Mobile Consumer: A Global Snapshot, Nielsen looks at consumer behavior, device preference and usage in 10 different countries. Here are the devices we use:
Here are the types of apps we use:
The coast is clear now, but for a while there, Google’s two-step verification system wasn’t keeping you as safe as you thought. In fact, it was providing an avenue for folks to get in. App-specific passwords were propping your door open.
The exploit was found—and reported—by Duo Security, which is publishing its data now that Google has fixed things up. If you’ve enabled two-step (which you should), you know that using applications like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram often involves an app-specific password. Apps that don’t just pass you to a Google login page and have you enter a phone-code will tell you to go get an app-specific password manually from your account page, and put that in.
The logic behind having app-specific passwords is that you can disable access from certain apps—like all the apps on a stolen phone—without disturbing the rest. And that’s great. The problem was, those manual app-specific passwords you put in weren’t actually app-specific. Anyone could re-use any of those passwords to link a Google device (Android phone, Chromebook) to a Google account. From there, hackers could login to services with the device, strolling right on in to account settings without ever knowing the real password.
As explained by Duo Security’s cleverly edited Google ad:
That’s not a good situation, but fortunately it’s been fixed. Ever since Feb 21st, anyone trying to get to account settings needs the real password. Convenience be damned. And even though this was a bit of a breach, it’s worth noting that two-step wasn’t making anything worse; in the absence of two-step, a thief with your app-specific password would just have had your real password instead. And they wouldn’t have to know about the connect-a-device exploit to use it. Way worse.
You’re safe for now, but it serves as a good reminder to keep up with those security best-practices. Clean out your app-specific passwords now and then, change your password occasionally, and beware auto-login features that make your life easier because chances are they’re making it more insecure. Nothing’s full-proof, but just try to stay safe out there. [Duo Security]
Amazon’s got a new way to buy stuff for anyone who has a Kindle Fire. Amazon Coins are a virtual currency that will come out in May, and work for all app and in-app purchases on the Kindle Fire.
The Coins will function exactly the same as real money, and developers will still get their standard cut. Amazon thinks it will help drive more business, and that makes some sense. Especially with apps and games for kids, it seems like a nice addition where you can maybe set up a Coins purse without allowing access to another payment method. And since Amazon will obviously never stop accepting real money—unlike virtual currency-only merchants like Xbox Live—you don’t have quite the locked-in headache here, either. [Amazon]
Facebook did not get much attention last October when it officially launched “mobile app install ads,” in part because the company unveiled about a dozen new ad products in 2012 and, from the users’ point of view, many of them kinda looked the same.
Also, mobile app install ads appeared to be mainly for mobile game and app developers — and apps and games for Facebook are old news.
But several of Facebook’s big advertising clients who have used the ads in Q4 indicated that the ads can be used to develop e-commerce on Facebook, turning the social network into a mobile shopping and sales device.
The ad units simply allow users to download the clients’ app from Google Play or the App Store.
Lucy Jacobs, COO of Spruce Media, tells us “the performance is right in the strike zone to be ROI positive.” E-commerce app downloads are much more valuable to advertisers than mere impressions because someone with an app is likely to use it repeatedly over time. Each app install therefore delivers a “lifetime” of revenue — meaning an average period of monetized use until the user abandons it — rather than a one-off sale.
Fab.com CEO Jason Goldberg, whose company tested the ad unit with Fab’s shopping app, says it was “Five times more effective than any other mobile download channel that we’ve used.” Fab is one of Facebook’s biggest advertisers.
Nanigan’s, a company that buys ads for Facebook clients, also tested the app for an e-commerce company. Mobile app install ads moved that client into the top 5 downloaded apps on Facebook within 10 days of the campaign starting, the company said. The campaign cost $325,000 and delivered 32.5 million ad impressions.
And Hotel Tonight, an app that drives last-minute hotel bookings, saw a 10 times higher click-to-install rate from the ads over regular Facebook ads. (That campaign was coupled with a Facebook Offer, another of Facebook’s e-commerce plays.) “I feel like a kid in a candy store with all these choices. It performs better from a click-to-install perspective than anything except incentivized ads. From an efficiency standpoint, it’s on par with everybody else out there today,” Hotel Tonight’s director of mobile marketing Adam Grenier has said (quoted in a Facebook case study).
The fact that Hotel Tonight used the ad unit along with a Facebook Offer is instructive — Facebook has launched a number of e-commerce plays (including Offers, Gifts and Deals) and not seen much traction with users.
Perhaps mobile app install ads are where Facebook’s e-commerce sweet spot might be found — not actually doing transactions but driving traffic to those who do.
Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.
Apple, if it were just a media company, would be pretty fearsome. Its iTunes business is on pace to do $8 billion in annual revenues.
But, fund manager Eric Jackson at Forbes noted something interesting about iTunes this quarter. It was flat on a sequential basis, despite the fact that Apple added 75 million new iOS devices. iTunes revenue was $2.1 billion.
Over the last four quarters iTunes revenue is basically flat going from $1.9 billion to $2.1 billion. Meanwhile, iOS devices have gone from 365 million to 529 million, a significant jump. Pulling further back, as we did in this chart, over the last 11 quarters, iOS devices are up 5.3X, while iTunes is only up 2X.
Why is iTunes sputtering relative to iOS? We assume part of it is Apple’s international iOS growth where iTunes items like songs and movies aren’t available. We also assume services like Netflix and Spotify are cutting into iTunes sales.
What this means for Apple is unclear. But a big part of Apple’s strength is its ecosystem. Part of that ecosystem is music, movies, and apps bought through iTunes. If people are buying fewer movies and less music, they will be less locked in to Apple’s platform.
Games are the most frequently used apps on both smartphones and tablets.
According to mobile analytics company Flurry, games account for 39 percent of time spent in apps on smartphones, and 67 percent of app time on tablets. Games’ ability to engage users is one reason they are the biggest moneymakers in Apple’s App Store.
Flurry also found that smartphone owners use more apps per week, but tablet owners’ app sessions are twice as long. This is why many in mobile believe that tablets are a more promising advertising platform than smartphones, as we discussed in our mobile advertising report.
Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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